The Houston oil company behind last year’s spill off Huntington Beach has agreed not to contest six misdemeanors in Orange County Superior Court and pay $4.9 million in fines and penalties to the state and county for failing to promptly notify regulators of the ongoing leak, harming protected birds and polluting California waters, prosecutors said Thursday, September 8.
Amplify Energy — along with its two subsidiaries, Beta Operating Co. and San Pedro Bay Pipeline — will appear in Santa Ana Superior Court on Friday, where they will be found guilty of charges related to their failure to comply with at least seven alarms that has exploded inside one of their three oil rigs in the Pacific Ocean last October, warning them that 25,000 gallons of crude oil had leaked into the water from a broken pipeline for more than 16 hours.
The leak, which led to the cancellation of the Huntington Beach air show and shut down much of the Orange County coastline for weeks, occurred when the decades-old pipeline suddenly ruptured on Friday, October 1, 2021. Divers later discovered the pipeline had been pulled like a bent straw, likely the result of being dragged by the anchor of a passing ship.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Thursday that Amplify should have known the pipeline was leaking when they first received an alarm around 4 p.m. October 1. :30 p.m. on Saturday, October 2.
The two officials celebrated what they called a record fine against a company accused of environmental crimes in Orange County.
“These are tough penalties, but let’s be clear here: This spill shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Bonta said. “Amplify’s leak detection system worked, but Amplify failed to take appropriate action. No leaks or potential leaks reported for more than 16 hours. Their actions were unacceptable. Amplify broke the law.
The automatic leak detection system in Amplify’s oil rig control center detected the loss of flow in the pipeline the moment it occurred, the two officials said.
According to a federal investigation into the leak, the drilling crew shut down and then restarted the pipeline five times during the first night of the leak. As a result, the oil passed through the pipeline for a total of three hours. In a statement after a grand jury indicted the company last December, Amplify said its employees believed the system was returning false alarms.
Prosecutors blamed the company for failing to notify the US Coast Guard and other agencies despite multiple signs that the leak was happening. Oil sheen was spotted on the water Friday and Saturday. And thousands of people across central Orange County smelled an intense smell of tar or gas on both days.
Spitzer said the company should have known better.
“They had a state-of-the-art system and it did exactly what it was supposed to do,” Spitzer said. “They intentionally ignored it. They hit the snooze button.
Charges Amplify agreed to plead no contest to include one count of failing to notify the California Office of Emergency Services of the spill and one count of discharging oil into state waters. The remaining four counts were for injuring birds protected by California fish and game codes.
The state and county fines announced Thursday will reimburse those agencies for attorney fees and for environmental cleanup efforts that continued for weeks after the spill.
In a statement Thursday, Amplify Energy said the plea deal would “resolve all criminal matters” with the state.
“This resolution with the State of California, which follows Amplify’s plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, further reflects the commitments we made immediately following the incident to affected communities and the environment. by release,” said Martyn Willsher, President and CEO of Amplify. , said in a written statement. “We have worked diligently to support successful cleanup and remediation efforts, including the deployment of over 1,800 oil spill response contractors, have paid covered claims as quickly as possible and continue to work cooperatively with the various state and federal agencies investigating these issues. ”
At the same time as authorities announced the settlement of the state and local case, a judge located a few blocks from the federal courthouse in Santa Ana was signing the previously announced nearly $13 million plea agreement to put end to a federal criminal case.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter on Thursday afternoon approved the plea deal, which requires Amplify and its affiliates to pay $7.1 million in fines and $5.8 million in costs incurred. by the Coast Guard to clean up the spill.
The recently finalized federal plea deal – which required the companies to plead guilty to a negligent oil spill misdemeanor charge – also puts the company on four-year probation and requires them to install new leak detection systems. , improve training, perform underwater visual operations inspections and make other operational improvements.
Texas firm to pay nearly $13 million in fines and compensation for 2021 Huntington Beach oil spill
Federal prosecutors had alleged that despite sounding multiple leak detection alarms, pipeline employees shut down and then restarted the pipeline, after incorrectly determining there was no leak.
Plea settlements of nearly $13 million from federal court and $4.9 million from state courts add to a recent $1 million settlement Amplify reached with Orange County.
Amplify also recently reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by fishing companies, coastal businesses and landowners affected by the oil spill.
The exact terms of the class action settlement are still being worked out, with a draft agreement to be prepared in time for a status conference on Oct. 17 in Judge Carter’s courtroom at the federal courthouse. of Santa Ana.
Carter, amid the approval of plea agreements in the federal criminal case Thursday afternoon, accused the federal government of delaying progress in civil cases by delaying the ability of others to inspect the pipeline.
Pipeline inspections have been delayed by both the Army Corp of Engineers and the fishery, Carter said. The judge has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 3 for the government to provide answers about the pipeline inspection delays.